Many of the same principles and activities from cooking with younger age groups still apply. As children gain in maturity, however, give them more independence and choice in terms of what to cook and how to cook it. Have them plan menus for each meal based on nutritional needs. If they make a decision that you don’t agree with, talk about it: Have them explain why they want to make/eat a particular food. Talk about its nutritional benefits and drawbacks. What other options are available? How can you make the food healthier? Through these types of conversations, children will come to have an explicit understanding of health, nutrition, and the value of cooking that will influence their food choices long into their adult lives.
One great way to formalize knowledge about nutrition and food safety is through the framework of science. The more children know about food and how it affects their bodies, the more likely they are to make informed decisions. For example, fiber is marketed as a good nutrient, but most children don’t know why it is good. By understanding how insoluble fiber interacts with the digestive system to clean it out and learning that soluble fiber slows absorption of sugar, children will have concrete reasons for eating high-fiber foods. Grounding knowledge in a scientific context will allow them to make informed decisions as they grow older and will prevent them from blindly following marketing trends. The same applies to food safety: the importance of cooking foods thoroughly and washing hands makes most sense in terms of bacteria and viruses. Finally, food science and the chemistry of cooking are other fascinating fields that can spark interest in your children.
Science and Cooking
- Kids World – Food Safety: This website has links and activities about preparing food safety including a “Bad Bug Book” highlighting different types of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can be found in food.
- Food Science for Kids: Children interested in science will love this website, which has many ideas for food experiments and projects, facts on health and cooking, and much more.
- Your Digestive System by KidsHealth.org: An easy-to-understand description of the digestive system and what happens when you eat.
- Kitchen Chemistry: Features 100 food science experiments broken down by food group.
Books for this age group
Fun Food by Williams Sonoma
Perfect for kids 8 years and older with illustrated directions and vegetarian recipes.
The Science Chef by Joan D’Amico and Karen Drummond
Part cookbook, part science experiment guide, this book is sure to delight kids interested in science and food. Includes 100 experiments and recipes, rules for kitchen safety, and a nutrition guide.
Naked Eggs and Flying Potatoes by Steve Spangler
This book leans toward the science end of the spectrum with experiments such as “The Incredible Can Crusher” that will wow your children and audiences alike.
*Article written by Claudine Yee, Brown University